Welcome to Stuart Smith’s second show report from the recent XFI Premium Audio Show 2019 held in the Netherlands.

Grimm Audio

Musical is a term often bandied about by hifi reviewers, I believe, when they are short of things to say about a product or are describing a product that they don’t really get or don’t like particularly, but musical is just the word I’m going to use when I describe the sound in the Grimm Audio room at XFI Premium Audio Show. Now, when I say musical I mean that there were no bells and whistles, no histrionics and no gimmicks to the sound, just a wonderfully balanced and coherent presentation of the tunes being played.

I first came across Grimm many years ago when I first attended one of the Paris shows and they were exhibiting in a small (very small) room and they were using their, now familiar, heavy toe in technique for their speakers…and I just didn’t get them at all – perhaps I was put off by the odd set up. Since then I have heard them many times, though never sadly at home, and I have come to really appreciate how effortlessly these speakers make music appear in the room.

The LS1 in standard form are avaialble from €18 350 and go up from there depending on finish and the LS1 Reference used at XFI are more than that and that may seem a lot for what is, it has to be said, a pretty compact speaker. (The LS1 Berryylium is €23 750). However, if we are to judge a product on its sonic merits then the Grimm speakers do represent a solid musical investment. At this point I should add that there is a couple of different subs avialble which add further to the price. Another however is that the LS1 represents a complete system in itself with you only needing to add a digital or analogue source – the proposition looks even more attractive now you realise amps and preamp are not a price on top.

At XFI Grimm were using their € 9 799.79 ( i have no idea why there is 79 cents added to the price) MU1 (add €750 for a 4TB SSD drive) which I mentioned previously in my first show report. MU1 is a Linux based computer using an in-house designed FPGA interface board and features Grimm’s ultra low jitter clock. It is Roon ready, of course and runs Roon Core so there is no messing about with extra computers or servers on which to run Core.

I really enjoyed this system.

Steinway and Lyngdorf

Sadly there was no music playing in this room when we went in but it was very busy with people chatting and asking questions of the representatives on hand.

Manger, Lindemann, Bergmann and DS Audio

The Manger S1 are an active two-way speaker system and look wonderfully sleek and, dare I say it, feminine in their surroundings. The onboard amps provide 240W to the bass and 180 to the high-frequencies and there are onboard trim switches to tweek the sound: Input Trim Switch, the Input Sensitivity Switch, AV Filter, LF Module Switch, Room Acoustics Correction Switch, Nearfield /Cinema Screen Correction Switch and a High Frequency Trim Switch. The HF transducer is of Manger’s own design, runs 80Hz to 40KHz and is instantly recognisable, whilst the LF unit is a 200 mm glass fibre-polyester sandwich design with a 38 mm voice coil diameter. The system is a closed system so there are no ports to add colouration.

Digital source in this room was the Lindemann Music Book whist analogue goodness was provided by the wonderful Bergmann Galder TT. Airbearing design. the turntable has a vacuum hold down, or clamp on the platter and can accept up to 4 tonearms including radial and linear tracking models with a special output for an airbearing tonearm. the plinth is die-cast aluminium with the Aluminium platter floating on air and with a 3mm acrylic mat. The platter is centred by steel spindle and low friction polymer bearing. The “Tacho Motor” uses a high precision feedback control system and will run 33 and 45. Bergmann makes a couple of air-bearing tonearms with the air supply being “onboard” and them claiming it to be silent, clean, dry and smooth with a replaceable filter.

Cartridge on the day was the optical cartridge from DS Audio which we have spoken about previously and really love but in essence at the end of the cantilever, instead of having coils or magnets there are LEDs. The other DS Audio project you see, and again we have spoken about it in the past (it’s the tower to the left of the turntable with green lights on it), emits positive and negative ions over the playing surface of the record.

They were playing a Jan Hammer composed tune with John Abercrombie and the sound was snappy and precise, quick and nimble, with nothing being over the top and leading to a really nicely balanced performance.

Chord Electronics, ATC, Chord Company and Innuos

Whilst in the hotel restaurant the night before, Moz and Doug from Chord Electronics came up to say hello and mentioned what they were going to be presenting in their room and so I for one was really looking forward to experiencing it the following day. It did not disappoint. The system was an Innuos Zenith mk3 and Phoenix, Chord Electronics Blu2, DAVE and Ultima 2 power amps and the speakers were  ATC SCM100 with Chord Company Signature cables used throughout.

The Innuos Zenith and Phoenix we have spoken about lots and together they make an absolutely wonderful source with the Phoenix being the product launched at RMAF earlier last month. Basically speaking the Phoenix is a USB regenerator, a linear power supply and an external master clock with its own linear power supply all in one box. Having had the on and off dem its effects are not subtle.

Chord Electronics DAVE is a wonderful DAC that I reviewed sometime ago and really didn’t want it to go back I loved it that much – needless to say it got our highest accolade. The Blu MkII is an FPGA-based upsampling CD transport which offers “the world’s most advanced filter technology” says Chord. Blu MkII’s main “heart” is a Xilinx FPGA. Rob Watts’ (Chord’s Digital Design Consultant) has used this to create his WTA M-Scaler technology. Blu II also features a USB digital input so it can also be used as a standalone upsampler for use with other digital sources. The power amps (Ultima 2) were created this year to help celebrate this British company’s 30th-anniversary celebrations and they are beasts of amps – how does 750w RMS per channel at 0.05% distortion into 8Ω or 1305w RMS per channel into 4Ω grab you?

The ATCs are clearly a speaker with studio lineage and feature 25mm HF driver, 75mm mid driver and 314mm bass driver to give a frequency response (-6dB) of 35Hz & 22kHz and an 88dB sensitivity.

Chord Company’s Signature cables are the latest iteration of the British company’s longest-running product and were their first high-frequency shielded speaker cable introduced in 2004 and now uses Taylon as the insulation.

This really was a stunning sounding room with the speakers, electronics and cables working really well together and everything being wonderfully composed and controlled. Bass was tight and not over-dominating and judging by the number of people sat for good lengths of time in this room, the sound was certainly being appreciated by visitors.

432 EVO, Vitus Audio, Metrum and Tingsha Audio

This was a very, very nice sounding room that just oozed high-end sound with a really three-dimensional and immersive presentation that simply drew you into the musical performance. What I really was bowled over by was the sheer amount of detail that was being presented by this system, but never once did I feel I was being overwhelmed. Often detail can come across as an over-emphasised top-end but this system just presented the music beautifully – and isn’t that what you want in a system? Look, it was 3pm in the afternoon and often at this time at a show you can start to become a little jaded and war-weary (it does take a lot of concentration to listen to systems as often you are carrying out (sort of) mini-reviews in less than ideal conditions) but this system really did open by eyes and ears with its easy-going quality – and that after being in some stunningly good sounding rooms – we’d just come out of the Chord, Innuos and ATC room!

At the heart of this system lies the 432 EVO Master music server which is equipped with a dedicated superclock board, software jitter tuning and 432 Hz post-processing. The clock has a dedicated linear power supply which 432 EVO says greatly improves sound quality. The Master has a 4TB storage capacity on a custom spring suspension system but larger storage is available upon request.  Purchasers of the Master can choose between the bundled Logitech Media Server or Roon which will run on their own dedicated CPU cores, separated from the audio processing core and OS core.  The 432 EVO MASTER can either play in 432 Hz processing mode or be a bit-perfect player/streamer. The separate box on the right is the PSU which has three separate cables going out of it from three individual power supplies and which go to the Master to the superclock, USB output board and server board. I’d love one of the Masters in our system it has to be said!

The Metrum unit you see is the DAC and the speakers are the Tingsha Audio Conquistar made by Jean Paul Elinck and ranging in price from €15 000 to €23 000. They are a two-way design using full-range drivers and a ribbon from RAAL. Everything above 2500Hz is run open to the ribbon which extends to 35 000Hz and there is a claimed response going down to 35Hz. The crossover components are embedded in special anti-resonance fluid and as an option Duelund components available for the capacitors & resistors. The LF drivers are, interestingly, made from the same material as the ribbons and are 6.5″ units with the loading being a twin-ported bass reflex system.

All in all this system was very well put together as outlined in my first paragraph and the Vitus Audio is a great amp to be used, though I’d really like to hear this with the very latest Vitus Audio amp – more of which later.

True-Blue Box

OK, sometimes a product comes at you at a show and you just think “how much?”, often with a secondary thought of “they must be having a laugh”. Now I’m not even going to pretend that I understand the science going on in these two amps we heard but what did shock me, in a good way, was the price; the True-Blue Box Cobalt is  €1350 and the bigger Indigo is €2000 inc VAT.

So, the chip used in the amps is made by a company called Axign from the Netherlands and is the AX5689 digital audio amplifier controller with the company’s website saying “The digital amplifier controller of Axign, AX5689, compares the signal at the loudspeaker terminal with the input signal. All disturbances in the loop, such as power supply ripple and non-linearity from the reconstruction filter are compensated real-time and suppressed thanks to the extraordinary high loop gain. The analogue signal at the load is converted by a high-performance low-latency feedback ADC. It combines a low-latency of several nano-seconds, for loop stability, with a high dynamic range up to 120dB for professional audio. With only the input stage of the ADC in the analogue domain, the AX5689 is highly digital and consequently has all the features like programmability, self-learning and robustness of digital signal processing. Due to the digital nature of the design, it is nearly CMOS technology independent.” So there you have it.

The smaller amp gives out 2 x 120 Watts and the bigger amp 2 x 250 Watts and yes, you read the prices correctly. I also loved the finish. Who said high-end sound has to cost a fortune? My favourite aesthetic design of the show I think.

Sonically I was blown away with the sound for the money using an old pair of old B & W speakers. The brand was also generating a good deal of interest from visitors to the room and it was packed whilst we were in there.

If there was an award for the bargain of the show I think we’d have a winner.

Audio Script 

Now, this room was packed with people and it was very noisy but over the chatter there was some very nice sounds playing. Playing when we went in the room was a Luxman turntable wth a DS optical cartridge with Luxman electronics and a pair of Elipson Legacy 3230 speakers. Anyway, here are some pictures of the frankly beautiful kit in this room.

Sivian Acoustics, Do Maru and Townshend Audio

The final room of the Saturday was the hugely famous Townshend Audio room and our main reason for being in the room was the demonstration of their Seismic Podiums. Now, we have a pair of these for our Avantgarde Acoustic Duos and having had the demonstration I can’t wait to get them on top of the Podiums.

However, before we get into the dem of the Podiums lets have a look at what made up the system as it was a belter in its own right. Speakers and amps were by Dutch company Sivian Acoustics who are a completely new name to me. The speakers are the Sivian Acoustic Leda (€15 000) and have 1 x 130mm AMT driver, 2 x 55mm drivers and 2 x 180mm drivers. They feature a first-order crossover and go down to 36Hz in a three-way time aligned bass reflex enclosure. The pre is the Elara (€5000) with an onboard DAC and the power amplifier is Larissa which will pump out a healthy 2 x 150W into 8Ohms. Speaker cables and interconnects were all Townshend and from the Fractal range. The server is the Auralic G1 and there’s an Accuphase CD player in there too.

On its own and not using the Podiums this system is very impressive in its own right with the guys playing us some Psy Trance in the form of Ghostrider – not your typical audio show fodder but all the better for it. This system is huge sounding and very much my kind of thing with bass digging low and remaining taut with a good and spatial soundstage that you could experience even well away from the sweet-spot. So, the guys now engaged the Podiums and played the same track. This is not a subtle demonstration and the effect is of just locking everything into place and with a deeper soundstage and even more controlled bass. Do Podiums work? Oh, yes and then some. I was speaking to Max and Toni from Townshend who had been running the same dem throughout the day and they said everyone, bar one forum bod, had commented on how much better the system sounded with the speakers on the Podiums. For me, once heard it was hard to go back – though we did several times just to make sure we were hearing what we were hearing. The Podiums are available in different sizes to suit different sizes of speakers and you can also get platforms for electronics and turntables. Just to show that you can put huge speaker systems on the Podiums there was a massive (what looked to be) nightclub-style stack of speakers sat atop a Podium with people pushing it side to side to show the speakers wouldn’t fall off. This is a fantastic demonstration and I am now a firm believer in decoupling over coupling (spikes etc) and no doubt you will see more of the Townshend products creeping their way into our big system.

Dem of the show for me.

Max was keen to show off his new preamplifier (see pics) and a box of tricks for testing cables, which was somewhat intriguing to say the least.

The big panel you see hanging on the wall at the opposite end of the room is the Do Maru Kusazuri panel for televisions and available in 55″ (€7 990) or 75″ (€8 990) versions. In essence, add a television of the tight size and get this bolted to the wall and installed and you have a full-on home cinema without the usual hassles. You can add rear channel modules and other bits and bobs but in its standard form, it was very impressive indeed. I’m no marketing guru but this product would be a godsend for folk who kit out luxury yachts, furnish luxury hotels or just for people who want a great sounding television without the hassle of having to tear holes in walls and have wires all over the place. I neat and great-sounding solution in my book.

And that concluded our Saturday at the show…apart from far too much to drink with exhibitors and a bit of a dance back in the Townshend Audio room after hours. Luckily we made it back to the hotel room safe and sound and were up bright and early (ish) the Sunday morning to cover the rest of the show. Coverage of the Sunday will follow.

MORE FROM XFI

MORE FROM XFI

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 1

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 2

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 3

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 4

Bird’s Eye View Of XFi 2019

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